The Denon PerL earbuds prove the AirPods Pro 2 have some convincing competition to beat

Lower-price buds with premium features.

Denon PerL
(Image: © Future)

iMore Verdict

The Denon PerL bring the wicked sound quality and some of the extra features from their more expensive brethren, albeit for a lower price. While the noise-canceling could be better, they’re a great buy at $199.


  • +

    Sound personalization is excellent

  • +

    Brilliant sound profile

  • +

    Very comfortable

  • +

    Well priced


  • -

    Noise-canceling could be better

  • -

    Weirdly shaped charging case

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In-ear wireless earbuds are, as ever more manufacturers pump them out, a dime a dozen. To make sure that their headphones stand out, those same manufacturers have to fill them with features that are either better than what everyone else does, or something new, and unique.

The Denon PerL manage to bring all the requisite features you’d expect from some more premium headphones to a very reasonably priced pair. They’re related to the Denon PerL Pro, a pair of headphones that we happened to really like, and while they might not have some of the top-shelf features and components of the $299 Pro, the PerL are a great, cheaper option with one thing that will make you think twice before you pick something else up.

Denon PerL: Price and availability

Denon PerL case

(Image credit: Future)

While Denons other PerL earbuds, the PerL Pro, cost $299/£299, the PerL cost a much more reasonable $199/£189. That makes them cheaper than the AirPods Pro, and while they might not have the all-conquering noise canceling of Apple’s option, they have a secret weapon that could bring you across.

You can grab them from the Denon Store, but they’re not yet on Amazon in the United States. Potential buyers can go to the Big A in the UK, however, and you’ll find them at other major audio retailers and other big box stores like Walmart.

Denon PerL: Build and fit

Denon PerL earbuds in front of a record

(Image credit: Future)

The fit and finish on the PerL belies their more budget-oriented price — they’re not wholly different from the more expensive PerL Pro, albeit missing a couple of the glossy elements to set them apart. The case doesn’t creak or flex, and there’s that crucial element of ‘bag-tossability’ so that you don’t worry about throwing them into your back on the way to work.

There is just one crucial issue with the case — and that’s its shape. It’s necessitated by the shape of the buds themselves, and rather than the slim, smooth oblong that comes with something like the AirPods Pro 2, it’s a thick, chunky oval thing that opens in the top. While it fits easily into a bag, it’s trickier to stick into a pair of jeans. I found that it dug into my leg when I wore my skinny jeans, leaving a Denon PerL-shaped dent in my leg for some time after taking them out of my pocket. For jacket pockets it's ok, but if you like to put your buds in your pants pockets you might have less luck.

The buds themselves are the most interesting part of the pocket, bringing a plate-like form factor to the table. It’s the same shape as the Denon PerL Pro, bringing the more expensive design down to a lower price. It does, however, turn out to be very comfortable. See, the PerL don’t rely on the rubber bud bits themselves to stay in your ear, instead featuring a shaped piece of rubber that nestles into the folds and creases of your hearing implements. Overall, in my ears, the Perl are very comfortable, and while larger than most, they’re no more cumbersome than a pair of buds like the AirPods Pro 2.

Denon PerL: Features

Denon PerL earbud

(Image credit: Future)

The Denon PerL are packed with all the features you’d expect for the price — and one more very cool one. The core, expected active noise canceling is here, although it lacks the adaptive modes of the more expensive Pro model. It’s solid enough, and it’s almost as good as its competitors — although it falls down with the higher frequencies. Bus noises, traffic, and noisy offices are made short work of, but it's noticeable when some sounds slip through the algorithmic cracks. It can get caught up on very loud noises as well, overcompensating with some extra digital crackle. Unless you work on a construction site (where you shouldn’t be wearing noise-canceling headphones, naughty naughty), however, you’re going to be just fine.

Then there’s Denon’s ‘Fit Checker’, which helps you find out whether the buds are crammed into your ear properly. It works quickly and easily, and all you need do is make sure you’ve got the right bud bits attached and then move them around in your ear until you get a little green tick. The fit checker is found in the app, which houses the other features of the buds.

You can toggle the noise canceling on and off, play with the fit checker, check the battery level, and update the software. The app itself is speedy under the finger and well laid out — and dominated by the key feature. The Denon PerL use the same Masimo AAT (or Adaptive Acoustic Technology) as the Pro to map out the shape of your ear, and make the best sound signature for your hearing.

It works an absolute treat, although we’ll get to how it sounds later. It’s easy to use as well. Just follow the on-screen prompts, ensure that your surroundings are quiet, and then listen to the five-minute series of beeps and boops as the earbuds work out a sonic image of your ears. From there, you get a personalized, sphere-like sound profile that you can name, which in a fun addition, is named every time you turn your headphones on. My headphones welcome me back with a ‘Hello, Tammy’. For added fun, call it something funny so you can laugh every time you pop your earbuds in. ‘Commander piddlefingers’, for example.

Denon headphone app in action

(Image credit: Denon)

Finally, in the app you can change what Denon calls the ‘immersion mode’. The idea is to make you feel like you’re at a concert, and so turning it up brings up the bass. It does what it says on the tin — dial up the setting, and you get more bass and warmth. Does that make it more immersive? No. Does it make it more fun? Yes. Yes it does. I love a neutral sound signature, but sometimes you just want loads and loads of the deep stuff — and the immersion dial deals out bass in spades.

Controlling the buds is fairly easy thanks to the touch controls, which are usually a bug-bear of mine. In this case, however, that plate-like design makes working out where to touch a doddle, and the fact that I can customize them makes them even more useful. Physical controls are always hard to get working on buds like these, so I’m glad that the touch controls work well. There are also wear sensors on the inside of the buds so that music plays and pauses depending on how close they are to your ears. Those aren’t a given at this price point, so it's nice to have them.

The battery life of the PerL is solid, but not exemplary. You’ll get 6 hours of life out of the buds themselves, and then an extra 18 hours of juice is housed in the charging case. Compared to the AirPods Pro 2 that’s about par for the course, but there are now some options out there that give you more battery power.

Denon PerL: Sound quality

Denon PerL earbuds side by side in front of a record

(Image credit: Future)

The PerL are all about the sound quality — giving you that audio customization from the PerL Pro without the extra bits that cost more. Does it move across successfully, and will you miss the omitted lossless and spatial audio support? In a word (or three, in this case) — yes, and no. The Masimo audio processing works very well, making for a sound signature that makes your music sound excellent, and given the nature of the Bluetooth connection, you’re unlikely to miss Lossless audio. Spatial Audio will depend on your preferences, but the price-sound quality ratio here is such that it makes up for the lack of Dolby atmos inclusion.

When you look at the app once you’ve had your profile created, there are two sound options to choose from — a ‘default’ option, and your ‘personalized’ sound sphere. Now, I can’t say for certain, but it sure feels like the ‘default’ option is perhaps slightly deliberately held back so that the ‘personalized’ option sounds better, but then the personalized option sounds so good that I’m not really bothered.

While it might seem a little warmer than some of the competition, there’s an accuracy and smoothness to proceedings that make the PerL some of the best-sounding earbuds for the price. The PerL Pro have some very stiff competition to go up against, meaning their excellent audio has to have more scrutiny, while the PerL have a different bracket to go up against — and the personalized audio makes them sound better than most, if not perhaps all, of their similarly priced shelf mates.

Drum beats are crisp, bass lines pulsate, and guitars groove.

Drum beats are crisp, bass lines pulsate, and guitars groove. Vocals are well-shaped and accurate, while the sub-bass is thick and heavy. It’s great. At this price, there really aren’t any complaints you might have.

Alfa Mist’s jazzy errors is light and effervescent, the piano dancing around the plucked guitar. The drums lay a solid base for the rest of the ensemble, and the bass prances through the mix. Stereo separation is very good for a pair of in-ears, and soundstage places the band around you. It’s not as good as a pair of over-ears or Spatial audio, but it’s a darn sight better than you might expect.

Dark Fortress’s Satan Bled is generally a tricky track for buds, as the guitars blast over pummeling drums and heavy bass — but the PerL don’t miss a beat. Cymbals, usually lost, are pin sharp and accurate, while the chainsaw guitars are menacing and impenetrable. Crushing, threatening, and dark — just how we like it.

Denon PerL: Competition

AirPods Pro 2

(Image credit: Mike Sawh)

There are loads of options out there at this price point, but none offer the same list of features as the PerL. The AirPods 3 cost around $10 less, but omit noise canceling and don’t have the fancy audio personalization you’ll find here. They do, however, offer Spatial Audio, so that might tickle your fancy. The AirPods Pro 2 cost $50 more, and while they lack the Masimo AAT sound profile stuff, they do have some of the best noise canceling around. Is it worth the extra $50? If you want to make sure you can’t hear anything from the outside world, then yes, but otherwise, the superior sound of the PerL make them a better bet in our eyes.

There are also options from the likes of Sony and Sennheiser, although you’ll likely be better off looking elsewhere for this price, particularly at the Denon we’ve on hand here. The attention with those brands tends to go to their top-of-the-range products, leaving the cheaper options often floundering.

Denon PerL: Should you buy them?

You should buy them if…

  • You want some of the best-sounding buds for the price
  • You want some comfy buds
  • You want something different to Apple’s AirPods

You shouldn’t buy them if…

  • You care a lot about Spatial Audio
  • You exclusively wear snug trousers

Denon PerL: Verdict

Denon PerL earbuds in front of a record

(Image credit: Future)

The Denon PerL bring all the best bits of the PerL Pro earbuds down to a more manageable price point. The sacrifices made to allow them to be cheaper don’t ruin the experience, and the features that make it across give the PerL a more premium feel than their price might suggest. Spatial Audio would be nice to have, and the noise canceling leaves something to be desired, but as a complete package, you won’t find much better for the price. At the end of it all, however, these are some of the best wireless earbuds around.

They take the fight to Apple’s AirPods Pro 2, and while you could never say they come out on top, they get mighty close. Denon, if you’re reading: Improve the noise canceling and work out a way of slimming down that carrying case, and you’ve a surefire recommendation over the Apple’s white buds.

Tammy Rogers
Senior Staff Writer

As iMore's Senior Staff writer, Tammy uses her background in audio and Masters in screenwriting to pen engaging product reviews and informative buying guides. The resident audiophile (or audio weirdo), she's got an eye for detail and a love of top-quality sound. Apple is her bread and butter, with attention on HomeKit and Apple iPhone and Mac hardware. You won't find her far away from a keyboard even outside of working at iMore – in her spare time, she spends her free time writing feature-length and TV screenplays. Also known to enjoy driving digital cars around virtual circuits, to varying degrees of success. Just don't ask her about AirPods Max - you probably won't like her answer.